The sage grouse has always been a bird which has fascinated me but has received little of my attention because of their solitary nature. They are hard to find to watch and even more so to photograph.
Most of their lives are lived out in a solitary setting set in a vast sea of sage brush. Their daily routine is spent searching for food and avoiding predators but each spring the male and female sage grouse return to a common piece of ground, called a lek, to get reacquainted and to breed for the new year.
Sage grouse are adorned in a dull, drab outfit. One that blends in well, however, to the sage brush it uses to hide from predators. They aren’t flashy or colorful. Their whole method of survival is based around blending in to the dry and barren landscape which isn’t always easy to do.
But each spring the male sage grouse let down their guard and join the ranks of other male sage grouse to dance and display for the hearts and attention of the female sage grouse. They puff up their chest and make a short popping sound, one of the rare sounds the male sage grouse makes. Quite often the males will fight with each other during this display, hoping to win the breeding rights to a female in the vicinity who might be watching as she casually feeds to build up her strength for the coming breeding season.
This unique display only lasts a few weeks on the lek and then the sage grouse disperse. The male sage grouse return to their solitary bachelor lifestyle and the female sage grouse head off to find a suitable nest to hatch the eggs on raise the chicks on her own.
I have never seen sage grouse on their mating grounds in the spring until yesterday. I wanted to experience it for myself after reading about it and watching it on a nature show last year. They are fascinating birds for sure. Hard to observe and photograph most of the year but each spring when they gather on the lek it is like a parade of sorts, dancing and calling in the early hours of the morning by the males then they disperse for the day to return before sunrise the next morning to repeat it all oaver again until the breeding season is over.
I found it is not an easy task to photograph sage grouse during their displaying antics. Their mating display starts at first light in the morning, when one can barely see the surrounding landscape, not allowing much light for the camera to work properly. This is a morning exercise for these grouse so not long after the sun makes its full appearance the birds leave for the day to feed and rest for the next days ritual.
Even though the light was low and not conducive to good photography I did what I could to get a few shots of the sage grouse as well as a couple short clips on video. They are a unique and fascinating bird and if you ever get the opportunity to watch this grand display on their lek, don’t pass it up. It is incredible. I will go back every chance I get.